The Cardboard Sea debuts an original play

FEAR FACTOR: Werewolves and Greek tragedy find common ground in The Cardboard Sea’s production of ‘Has Anyone Seen Ms. Ray?’ “It’s intentionally jarring and giggle-worthy,” says director Todd Weakley. Pictured, from left, are Lauren Hewer and Hannah Eicholtz.
FEAR FACTOR: Werewolves and Greek tragedy find common ground in The Cardboard Sea’s production of ‘Has Anyone Seen Ms. Ray?’ “It’s intentionally jarring and giggle-worthy,” says director Todd Weakley. Pictured, from left, are Lauren Hewer and Hannah Eicholtz. Photo courtesy of The Cardboard Sea

What’s scarier: slobbering, snaggletoothed werewolves or a downright malicious headmaster? In the case of Ms. Amelia Ray (performed by Hannah Eicholtz), it’s staving off both evils at once.

Opening Thursday, July 6, at The Magnetic Theatre, Has Anyone Seen Ms. Ray? is all about things that go bump in the night. But there is a moralistic twist, says Todd Weakley, a director with local theater company The Cardboard Sea. “It’s based loosely on Antigone,” he explains. “Except it’s like the writers of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ took a stab at it.”

For those who slept through high school English, here’s a quick refresher on Antigone: Brothers Eteocles and Polynices jointly rule a Greek city called Thebes. One year, Eteocles decides he no longer wants to share power. An angry Polynices then unleashes his own army, igniting a bloody war that kills both brothers and leaves the throne up for grabs.

In swoops the almighty Creon with his sullen wife, Eurydice. To prove his newfound authority, Creon starts shouting orders, even banning a proper burial for Polynices. Not wanting to watch her brother rot outside the city’s gates, Antigone (sister of Eteocles and Polynices) fights Creon’s verdict and, in doing so, teases out a tough question: Is civil law always moral?

“It’s all about how well-meaning individuals without proper counsel can make devastating choices,” says Weakley. Or, in other words, how power can corrupt.

In The Cardboard Sea’s production, a change in leadership at Cadmus Academy has created a power struggle. New headmaster Dr. Gail Colby (Kirstin Daniel) is like Creon. She’s mean and nasty — not to mention she’s hiding a dark secret.

“When the characters find out what they’re dealing with, it gets pretty ridiculous,” says playwright Jeff Donnelly.

“It’s a punch to the gut,” adds Weakley.

Cast members don’t want to give too much away but do suggest that Dr. Colby is connected to some ferocious werewolves. That is bad news for Ms. Ray, a teacher who does what’s morally right, even if it breaks codified rules at the uppity private school.

“She’s the Antigone character,” says Donnelly. That much becomes apparent when student Sarah Templeton (Lauren Hewer) approaches Ms. Ray with a problem. Dr. Colby has forbidden Ms. Ray from helping with said problem, and what follows is lethal.

“The plot takes a fatal spin,” says Eicholtz. Teacher Danny York (Jacob Williams) dies, students get spooked, and Ms. Ray deciphers right from wrong.

“It’s a meaty production,” says Donnelly. Studded with cheesy camp horror and an accidental splash of magical realism, he calls it black comedy.

“The script varies widely,” he continues. “It can be very dramatic, but I have a tendency to approach serious topics with humor.”

That explains the articulate dialogues from supernatural creatures. But, according to Weakley, the werewolves are there for more than comedic relief — they double as a metafictional device that intentionally jars onlookers.

“They scream, ‘Wake up! This is fake!’” says Weakley. As a drama teacher, he’s always been interested in the theoretical side of theater, like suspension of disbelief — when audience members knowingly ignore a narrative’s implausibility. Weakley is so intrigued by this phenomenon that it’s reflected in the company’s name.

“The Cardboard Sea alludes to Nat King Cole’s jazz standard, ‘It’s Only A Paper Moon,’” he says, singing the song’s key refrain: “But it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me.” It’s easy to see the tie to theater. Scripts can come alive if viewers will themselves to believe.

That very concept stuck two summers ago when Weakley, Donnelly, Eicholtz and Lauren Williams (who is now an actor in New York City) banded together to put on plays they liked. Has Anyone Seen Ms. Ray? will be the group’s fifth production.

“Our stuff is weird,” says Eicholtz. “But not just for the sake of being weird.” Rather, The Cardboard Sea puts on unique shows to get people thinking.

“We try to make plays that don’t just speak to you,” says Weakley. “They gnaw at you.”

Kinda like a werewolf might.

WHAT: Has Anyone Seen Ms. Ray?
WHERE: The Magnetic Theatre, 375 Depot St., themagnetictheatre.com
WHEN: Thursday, July 6, to Saturday, July 15, at 7:30 p.m. $16

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About Lauren Stepp
Lauren Stepp is an award-winning writer with bylines here in these mountains and out yonder, too.

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